City Council Job Description: Represent the City, Not Run It

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When Berkeley voters go to the polls tomorrow, they will vote for mayor and four of the nine City Council members.

But they won't vote for the most powerful person in the city, City Manager Weldon Rucker.

It's an important distinction, because the City Council, and particularly the mayor, have much less power than many assume they do.

Berkeley has a "weak mayor" form of government. The mayor chairs the City Council meetings, has one vote on the nine-member council and has the city's bully pulpit.

But unlike San Francisco and Oakland, the mayor isn't the chief executive-Rucker is. All full-time city staff serve under him.

The manager ultimately answers to the City Council, because they can remove him at will.

But in day-to-day issues, the business of the council-the elected branch of government-is to set policy, not to enforce it.

That's not to say the council doesn't matter.

Council members appoint the members of the city's 45 commissions, many of which make major policy decisions, such as the approval or rejection of controversial building projects and planning decisions.

Each council member appoints one member to each committee. Because of this, the politics of the various commissions come close to mirroring the council itself.

But nearly every new housing project approved by the commission system is appealed by aggrieved neighbors, and the City Council makes the final decision on these appeals.

These decisions are some of the council's most important, because developers must shape their projects to pass the council's muster.

Mike Meyers


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